Honda this week showcased the newest version of ASIMO, the world's most advanced humanoid robot, for the first time in North America, featuring its latest innovations – including the ability to communicate in sign language and to climb stairs without stopping.
ASIMO – which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility – was first introduced 14 years ago. Since then, it has made significant advances – including physical improvements like running and hopping on one leg, as well as breakthroughs in dexterity and intelligence, that have furthered Honda's dream of creating humanoid robots to help society.
"This is an exciting project for Honda," said Satoshi Shigemi, senior chief engineer of Honda R&D and the leader of Honda's humanoid robotics program. "Our engineers are working tirelessly to develop new technologies aimed at helping ASIMO work in a real world environment."
The new version of ASIMO has undergone numerous changes to its 4'3", 110-pound body. Developments in the lower body have enhanced stability and balance control, allowing the robot to climb more smoothly, run faster and change directions in a more-controlled fashion.
Enhancements in the upper body include major increases in the degrees of freedom available in the robot's hands. Each hand now contains 13 degrees of freedom, which allows ASIMO to perform many more intricate and precise tasks.
The increased hand dexterity provides additional movement in each finger, which also led to the development of ASIMO's new ability to communicate using both American and Japanese sign language. Force sensors in the robot's hands also provide instantaneous feedback allowing ASIMO to use the appropriate amount of force when performing a task. This allows the robot to pick up paper cups without crushing them, for example, but still allows it to use a stronger force when necessary.
"It was obvious that overall flexibility was necessary, and many more complex tasks can now be performed because of the improved operational capacity in the hands," Shigemi continued. "But perhaps more importantly, these innovations enhance ASIMO's communication skills, which is essential to interact with human beings."
Advanced technologies derived from research on ASIMO have also benefited other Honda business lines. For example, the Vehicle Stability Assistance (VSA) used in the Honda Civic, along with technologies in the championship-winning Honda Moto GP motorcycles had their genesis in Honda's robotics research program.
Later this summer, the new ASIMO will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor to become a daily performer at Disneyland's Tomorrowland.